We’ve been talking a lot about all the wonderful opportunities social media provides to us for building relationships with our communities. While this is true, usually every delicious piece of peanut-buttered toast has the potential of falling sticky side down.
Like peanut-buttered toast, social media can lead us into sticky situations if we toss it around blindly. Put bluntly, we can get stuck doing things everyone says we should be doing. Sometimes they’ll be right; the opinions of others can be valuable. Yet these opinions aren’t the same thing as personal experience. Social media is just one more marketing tool; we are not absolved from thinking carefully – sometimes outside of the tool box – about which tools we choose to employ.
Each tool provides a lens, and we see only what can be seen through that lens (i.e., a microscope used to search for planets will likely find only Planet Planarian). Technology and media innovator Francisco Dao, founder of 50Kings, recently posted on Brian Solis’ blog about The Illusion of Importance. He notes the “up” side of social web platforms is they allow us to create connections with people we’d probably not be able to find offline. The “down” side is that small groups can appear larger and more influential than they are (he notes that a white supremacist can find just .1% of 3 million Americans and feel he’s among 300,000 like-minded folks; whereas, he’d never find near this many people in real life). In other words, we can create a feedback loop that blinds us to ideas other than our own.
One of the stickiest traps we can fall into is cognitive dissonance. We see what we want to see, we believe what we believe, and don’t try to talk us out of it. We are hard-wired to be self justifying. Dao quotes Dr. Carol Tavris, author of Mistakes Were Made but Not by Me, who describes decisions as being made at the top of a pyramid.
Additionally, we’re driven towards social acceptance. Social media attracts us because it feels good to be part of a group. Belonging has roots in human survival. It sometimes takes a village. And it’s a self-perpetuating loop providing support, reinforcement, a strong identity and a sense that we’re part of something greater than ourselves. We’re often preaching to the choir, rather than breaking any new ground. We get stuck in the same old repertoire, and keep focusing resources on the 5,000 Friends who ‘liked’ us, even though they may not be giving us a dime.
Speaking of cognitive dissonance, peanut-buttered toast doesn’t always fall sticky side down . But try talking people out of this unless you actually conduct an experiment using your bread and your choice of topping. The toast can certainly get you into some messes, however; so it’s best to be prepared. One can’t avoid all potential pitfalls; one can tactically guard against them.
The knowledge we source from our inner circle –those board members, volunteers, colleagues, staff and friends telling us about the newest shiny objects on the market – will probably lead to something good enough. For awhile. However, if we want something better, something innovative, something transformative… we’ll need to seek knowledge outside our immediate ken; then we’ll need to apply it strategically.